Porsche’s Head of WEC Operations Alexander Stehlig believes that the manufacturer’s unique three-driver GTE-Pro setup for the 8 Hours of Portimao will be “really beneficial” toward its 24 Hours of Le Mans preparations.
Porsche is running with three drivers in its GTE-Pro cars for the first time outside Le Mans during this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship race in Portugal.
Frederic Makowiecki has joined Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni in the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR-19 while Michael Christensen has returned to the No. 92 alongside Kevin Estre and Neel Jani. Those trios will represent Porsche in the 24-hour race on Aug. 21-22.
Stehlig explained that Porsche had initially planned to run three-man crews at the 1000 Miles of Sebring before that event was canceled and replaced with the Portimao round.
“We wanted to do that all the time in Sebring, but we couldn’t do it in the past because we had IMSA and WEC clashing,” Stehlig told Sportscar365.
“We didn’t have a third driver. At Sebring in 2019, with the temperatures, we realized that a third driver would be helpful. So we planned to go for three drivers at Sebring [this year] because now we have no IMSA program, we have the drivers available.
“And then actually Sebring was canceled, but we thought it’s [still] a good idea because we get them early in the year in the team. If you look at the mileage a third driver does – an eight-hour race here and the 24 Hours of Le Mans – it’s quite a lot of mileage.
“It was clear when Sebring was canceled that we keep the idea, because Portimao could be warm anyway and we know it’s a physical track. So we combined all the positives.
“It’s a support that the third driver for Le Mans is already in the team, so it’s really beneficial. That’s why we did it.”
No. 91 Porsche driver Makowkieci, who is making his first WEC appearance beyond Le Mans since 2017, added that the six-man structure is important for keeping each third team member integrated into the WEC squad before Le Mans comes around.
While the approach wasn’t needed last year, when Makowiecki was also driving the RSR-19 in IMSA’s long-distance races, the Frenchman believes the extra WEC race is a requirement this time around.
“Definitely it’s more than the pure race performance to have three [drivers] instead of two,” Makowiecki told Sportscar365.
“It’s more to prepare for Le Mans including organization, spending time with the team, sharing with your colleagues to be sure that when you arrive in Le Mans, you are not like a stranger to the system.
“For sure Le Mans and the 24-hours is different. But I have been a third driver in the U.S in the past, and you could feel that by doing Daytona and Sebring at the start of the season, you were part of the system.
“Then when we were coming back for the last race at Petit Le Mans, everybody lived together for the year and you did not feel so linked.
“Here it’s to keep the link altogether and make sure that we are as strong as possible for Le Mans. It’s very important for points and the championship: it’s the biggest race of the season.”
Despite aiding Porsche’s Le Mans preparations, Stehlig indicated that the team doesn’t expect its three-driver setup to give Porsche a significant edge over Ferrari this weekend.
“I don’t think it’s a strategic advantage or disadvantage,” he said.
“If you look in the past, we were the marque always bringing two drivers to an eight-hour event and BMW, Aston, Ford and Ferrari brought three. So now it’s changed.
“There was a rules clarification in the winter which put two-driver lineups at a disadvantage in driving times for an eight-hour race. So if it’s two or three drivers, it’s no advantage or disadvantage.
“For sure when you have three drivers, you don’t need to drive that long and you can give more input in the time you drive. But I wouldn’t say that this is a big advantage.”
The rules clarification that Stehlig referred to was Porsche’s successful request in December for two-person crews to be exempt from the rule that no driver can complete more than four hours in any six-hour period of an eight-hour race.